MOJAVE, Calif. (AP) — It's been a dream of British billionaire Richard Branson to launch paying customers into space.
But that effort appears to have suffered a serious setback with today's crash of the space tourism rocket known as "SpaceShip Two," owned by Branson's company Virgin Galactic.
SpaceShipTwo, which is typically flown by two pilots, was designed to provide a suborbital thrill ride into space before it returns to Earth as a glider.
Virgin Galactic, once it finished developing its rocket ship, was going to launch space tourism flights from the quarter-billion-dollar Spaceport America in southern New Mexico. Virgin Galactic is in line to be the main tenant at the spaceport.
The company has repeatedly pushed back the timetable for when the $250,000 flights were to begin, pointing to delays in development and testing of the rocket ship.
Taxpayers footed the bill to build the state-of-the-art hangar and runway in a remote stretch of desert in southern New Mexico as part of a plan devised by Branson and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Critics have long challenged the state's investment, questioning whether flights would ever get off the ground.